MOTORCYCLES

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Harley Davidson

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In Milwaukee in 1901, 20-year-old Arthur Davidson and 21 year-old Bill Harley got excited when they heard about about some German experiments with motorized bicycles. They decided to make their own. To help them, they recruited two more Davidson brothers: Walter, a railroad machinist, and William, a toolmaker. Rounding out the team was a friend named Ole Evinrude (who later originated the outboard motors that still bear his name). Needing a place to work, the Davidson boys convinced their father to build a shed in their backyard.

The friends put together a two-horsepower engine from scrounged metal scraps, including a tomato-can carburetor, Two horsepower was pretty powerful for the time, but not enough to get up steep hills without helping with their feet, so they kept tinkering.

Finally, they began tooling around town at 25 mph, amazing the citizens and scaring the horses. People started asking if their motor-bikes were for sale, and they sold three in 1903. The next year, they increase their output 67% (five motorcycles), and then again 60% the following year (eight).This dizzying growth curved convinced them to build a 28 by 80 foot headquarters next to a rail spur. Unfortunately, they built it too close to the track, so they had to get together a dozen friends and lift the building a legal distance away. (The company headquarters still stands on this site.)

Ironically, Harley-Davidson's first serious model was designed to be quiet. It had an effective muffler and an understated grey color. Dubbed "the Silent Grey Fellow," the partners sold all they could make. But the silence was short-lived. Motorcyclists decided that they liked making a disturbance.

In 1907, a year they sold 150 motorcycles, William Harley created that distinctive staccato "potato-potato-potato" Harley sound by making an inept design decision: Rather than design a true 2-cylinder engine, he merely grafted a second cylinder onto his one-cylinder design, using a forked connecting rod to join both pistons to a single crankshaft.

The result was a engine that can't rev very high and that produces an excessive amount of vibration... which, for better or worse, has become the essence of a Harley. So much so, that competitors have been known to take smooth-running engines and deliberately de-tune them to run as roughly.

Harley-Davidson, of course, became a success story in the 95 years since, It now accounts for more than half of US sales of heavyweight bikes. HD just opened a second manufacturing plant in Kansas City, trying to bring their two-year waiting list for a new Harley down to something more reasonable, and expect to open a third one by 2004.

The company walks a tightrope between keeping their traditional rough-hewn market happy while simultaneously selling to the more upscale dentists, lawyers, and CPAs who make up large part of their customer base now. Whether they can keep pleasing everybody without ending up pleasing nobody remains to be seen. Still the Harley mystique continues: "Harley's leak oil, they vibrate bad, and you can't turn the things," complained one biker to Forbes Magazine. So why do people like him buy them? "You get laid."

Harley-Davidson, of course, became a success story in the 95 years since, It now accounts for more than half of US sales of heavyweight bikes. HD just opened a second manufacturing plant in Kansas City, trying to bring their two-year waiting list for a new Harley down to something more reasonable, and expect to open a third one by 2004.

VIVA LA REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE

Cuban motorcyclists, deprived of "hogs" and parts by the US economic embargo, keep 160 pre-1958 Harleys on the island alive and running with a great deal of ingenuity and improvised parts. The fanatical owners (Ernesto "che" Guevara, Jr. owns two) are jokingly called "Harlistas."

The company walks a tightrope between keeping their traditional rough-hewn market happy while simultaneously selling to the more upscale dentists, lawyers, and CPAs who make up large part of their customer base now. Whether they can keep pleasing everybody without ending up pleasing nobody remains to be seen. Still the Harley mystique continues: "Harley's leak oil, they vibrate bad, and you can't turn the things," complained one biker to Forbes Magazine. So why do people like him buy them? "You get laid."


The official corporate Harley-Davidson website: http://www.harley-davidson.com/

IN THE HOG MARKET

One of the places to see the culture clash between old-time Harley owners and new Yuppie bikers is at your local Harley-Davidson dealership.

There was a time when the stores looked pretty much what you'd expect--greasy garage-like places with lots of parts strewn around and few frills. Nowadays, a Harley dealership looks more like a Hallmark Store. The Harley name has been licensed to a wide range of manufacturers, from the logical (Harley biking jackets) to the ludicrous (Harley-Davidson Christmas ornaments, ceramics, plush animals, coffee, collectible plates, baby clothes and even Barbies). It's clear that the Yuppies have about won. It probably makes sense: Who else can afford to plunk down $6,000-20,000 (before the inevitable customization) for a fair-weather form of transportation?

A FAMILY OF HOGS

"You don't buy a Harley because it's a superior bike, you buy a Harley to be a part of a family," says Buzz Kantor, a motorcycle magazine publisher. The most obvious manifestation of this is the Harley Owners' Group (H.O.G), which has more than 300,000 members and 900 local chapters located around the globe.

Still, it's a little sad to watch toothless long-haired guys wandering in a culture-shock daze, carrying a greasy ailing carburetor through the rows of Harley bears and figurines, looking for the concrete comfort of the parts department. These are the guys that Harley-Davidson likes to brag about as being their most devoted customers, the ones who tattoo the name of the product on their arms and backs. We doubt they're going to see many dentists and lawyers doing that.



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